Beckenbauer cranks up heat
Slow-burning soccer rivalry now white hot
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
German players Lukas Podolski, right, and Arne Friedrich pose with a baby lion during the team's visit to Lion Park in Lanseria. (REUTERS/Markus Gilliar/Pool)
DURBAN – The England-Germany rivalry has been on a slow burn for decades.
Franz Beckenbauer decided the fire wasn't stoked enough, so he made it white hot.
Der Kaiser, the soccer legend, coach and administrator, has been taking pot shots at England prior to the meeting of the football powers Sunday in Bloemfontein.
If there is one thing the English don't take kindly to, it is being criticized by outsiders – especially German outsiders.
"The English look a little tired. There is a good reason for that. The Premier League players have got to play far more games than their (German league) colleagues, including two national cup competitions," Beckenbauer said. "Therefore, when it comes to a World Cup or a European Championships, they are burnt out. Our players, on the other hand, seem to be in a physically better condition."
The top players from both leagues play basically the same number of games so Beckenbauer’s point is moot.
But why not throw another log on the fire, Franz.
"England's first two appearances at the World Cup were wretched, but they improved against Slovenia," he said. "We respect them, but we certainly don't fear them.'
Beckenbauer said previously that England was a "kick-and-rush" team who had "gone backwards."
Then he pointed out the obvious.
"Stupidly, the English have slipped up by finishing second in their group. A game like this against Germany should be a semi-final, not a last-16 tie," he said.
What's Beckenbauer playing at? Maybe he truly doesn't worry about England and feels he can say whatever he wants.
Some are suggesting his words will fire up what has been, to this point in the World Cup, a flat English squad.
In reality, though, these two teams were fired up long before Beckenbauer launched his verbal volley. They've been that way the last 44 years, ever since Geoff Hurst scored – or didn't score – the winning goal in the 1966 World Cup final.
If nothing else, Sunday’s meeting will provide plenty of colour and a seething atmosphere off the pitch.
Extra security has been brought in and there will be a close watch on alcohol consumption. Booze can be purchased in restaurants and bars on a Sunday in Bloemfontein but none will be sold at stores.
With the circus coming to town, it is important both teams try to prepare without distractions.
But even that is difficult because the players are already wired.
"It is important to prepare for it just like any other game," said England forward Jermaine Defoe. "The lads are buzzing. It was great to win the game and the performance was good. Everyone worked from front to back, the spirit was great and everyone is looking forward to Germany.
"It would have been nice to face Ghana to be honest. But to win a tournament, you've got to face the best teams and beat them."
On the other hand, there’s no doubt Germany would have preferred to play the United States in the Round of 16.
To win, England will need to play better than it did in the group stage. There was a sign of a turnaround in their last game against Slovenia but the Three Lions still managed just one goal.
The Germans started the tournament looking like the best team in the world. But they struggled against Serbia before finally winning the group with a decision over Ghana.
This is not a typical German squad. They have some outstanding young players who provide creative stuff.
England will have to stop the likes of German midfielder Mesut Ozil, one of the standout performers in South Africa so far. And Miroslav Klose will be back after missing a game due to suspension.
Apparently all is well in the England camp but everyone knows they need to get surly Wayne Rooney on track. Rooney is nicked up, having injured an ankle during the tournament.
The Germans will try to aggravate the striker, who looks like he’s already on a short string.
That won’t be unusual come Sunday. Every player on the pitch will be on a short string.
That’s what makes this encounter the powder keg that it is.